Keeping in Touch With your Art Collectors

Marketing art can be a huge challenge. How do you get your art in front of people who will not only love it, but want to buy it as well? Should you invest in magazine ads? Participate in art festivals? Show your work in a local gallery? All valid tactics you should be pursuing, but you may be overlooking your best marketing opportunity: Selling to collectors who have purchased your work in the past.

This seems like an obvious suggestion – after all, past buyers clearly like your work and have explicitly told you they are qualified to purchase(nothing says “I can buy” like pulling out the credit card and buying). Yet I find that many artists and galleries are not putting their full efforts into marketing to past purchasers. If you aren’t actively pursuing sales with past collectors you are neglecting your best pool of potential buyers.

In a typical year 25-50% of my sales are made to existing customers. Existing collectors tend to buy larger and more expensive works, and the more they trust me and the better the relationship, the more frequently they will buy.

your biggest risk with collectors is not that they will stop liking your work, it’s that they will stop thinking about you

Perhaps you haven’t been as good at following up as you would like simply because you haven’t had a follow-up plan in place. I want to share with you some suggestions that will help make you a follow-up expert. Better follow-up will lead to more sales.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: your biggest risk with collectors is not that they will stop liking your work, it’s that they will stop thinking about you. Don’t let this happen!

In this post I will give you a broad picture of what client communications should look like – I’ll focus on more specifics in future posts.

The Big Picture | Long Term Strategies for Keeping in Touch

Before I dive in to specific tactics, let’s take a moment to discuss my thoughts and motivations underlying my follow-up plan. By understanding what the long-term strategy is, you will better understand my suggestions and why each is important.

Build your Mailing List

Job #1 is building a mailing list and keeping it organized. You are going to have a hard time following up with your customers if you don’t have a good mailing list. Make sure you are keeping all of your addresses organized and up to date in a format that makes it easy for you to access the information.

Our ArtSala service will allow you to keep track of collectors, but a spreadsheet or even ledger book, will as well. Do what makes sense for you and allows you to easily keep track of your customers and potential customers.

Marketing is a numbers game, so the larger your pool of potential buyers the more sales you are going to make. Building an effective mailing list takes time, so if you haven’t already, get your mailing list started today.

Your goal in your continuing contact with collectors is threefold:

Continue building on the relationship you began when you first met or when they first bought

Keep them thinking about you and your art

Position yourself so that when they are ready to buy, you are the one they think about

Frequency of Contact

Whenever I talk about keeping in touch with collectors, the number one concern I hear expressed by artists and gallery sales staff alike is “I don’t want to annoy my customers.” A valid concern, to be sure, but while there certainly is a point where you would be crossing the line and being too persistent, most of the time you are erring on the opposite side and not contacting your collectors nearly enough.

As a general rule, I like to contact my collectors every 4-6 weeks. By varying the type of contact and keeping the contact relevant there is little risk of offending. Remember, your contact isn’t made in a vacuum – these are not strangers you are contacting cold – these are people with whom you have already begun to establish a relationship and who have bought your work – they want to hear from you.

I will also say that immediately after a purchase I will be in contact more frequently with the buyer. I’ve found that once a buyer has had a positive experience you have a window of opportunity to sell more art while the iron is hot.

Just after we opened our gallery in 2001 we had a couple wander in during a show and buy a small piece by the featured artist. The couple lived in the area and so I offered to install the piece for them. When I arrived at their newly-built home I saw that there were many empty spaces in need of art. I suggested bringing out more of the artist’s work and began a campaign of sending the clients images of additional pieces I thought might fit in their décor. In the ensuing three months we placed nearly a dozen additional pieces including two major works. It would have been easy to simply sell the clients that first small piece and let it go at that, but we would have missed out on a great opportunity to turn these buyers into major collectors.

Consistency

While frequency is important, even more important is consistency. Sending out a newsletter one time might feel good, but if you don’t continue to follow up, that single contact will likely be wasted. It will sometimes take dozens of contacts to generate additional interest or a sale – don’t give up after the first few attempts.

Start by devoting four hours a week to follow-up and you should be able to sustain consistent contact with your mailing list. That time will expand as your mailing list grows, but the time will be well invested.

What to Say

While you might instinctively understand the importance of keeping in touch, you might also be saying “what am I possibly going to say to my collectors every four to six weeks?” Glad you asked.

Your communications don’t have to be complicated or even all that fancy. By varying the type and content of your communication you can avoid becoming stale or repetitious (though a little repetition is certainly not a bad thing).

Let me share some general guidelines about communicating with your buyers and what you will say.

Make it Personal

Newsletters and postcard are great and should definitely be a part of your mix, but your most effective communication will be personal. Letters, hand written notes and personalized emails will be your most effective tools. A newsletter will be opened by some percentage of your buyers, especially if it is well crafted, but a personalized note will be sure to grab attention and will be read.

Use your client’s name in your communications and reference previous conversation you have had. Ask a question or two to encourage dialogue.

Provide Relevant Information and Images

If you have a client who has told you they are especially interested in one particular subject, try and tailor your communications so that you are primarily sending them images and information regarding that subject. While you can certainly include the client in your general mailing list for newsletters, etc, your personal communications should be built around the collector’s interest.

Tell a Story

A photo may be worth a 1000 words, but telling a good story about your art will sell it. A landscape painting my be interesting in and of itself, but telling the story about how you created the piece and what most excited you about the landscape will build interest in the work and cause your collectors to look at the work more closely. Creating the work may seem mundane to you, but your collectors are fascinated by what you do and how you do it. Give them details.

Talk about the inspiration for the art, what it was that drew you to the subject, and what the challenges were in creating the piece. If you created the piece on location, talk about the trip to get to the spot.

Show the Story

Provide not only photos of the artwork, but get photos (or video) of yourself creating the piece. These images will draw the collector into the story and help them feel they truly understand what it took to create the piece.

Provide Valuable Information

Some of your communications might have nothing to do with your art. Send your collectors copies of interesting magazine article or how-to information related to displaying or collecting art. Become a trusted advisor and indispensible guide to your collector and they will thank you with future sales.

Tools for Keeping in Touch

newsletter2Be creative and varied in your communications. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to (or even want to) get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing over and over. Below are a list of communication methods you can use to keep yourself in front of buyers. In future posts I will delve into each of these and talk about the mechanics of putting them together and content.

Active Marketing

Email

Letter/Personal Note

Postcards

ENewsletter

Service Calls

Passive Marketing

Facebook/Twitter/Other Social Media

Blog

Website

When to Quit

When should you give up on a buyer and stop communicating with them? In a word, NEVER. Realize that it may be years before you hear from a buyer again or before they are ready to buy.

Only when a client tells you they are not longer interested and would like you to stop sending them messages will you quit.

Become Strategic in your Communications

Don’t leave your communications with buyers to chance, plan ahead. Rather than waiting for a reason to communicate to strike (it never will) plan out your communications ahead of time. Sit down once a quarter and plan out what your communication strategy will be for the coming months. The more specific you are in your plans, the better. Make it so that you can spend your marketing time sending the communications out instead of trying to figure out what they should be.

What you Should do Today

I encourage you to take action today to begin better communications with your collectors. Start by cleaning up your mailing list (or starting your mailing list if you don’t have one). Sit down and plan out your communications for the next three months. Most importantly, commit yourself to constant contact with your collectors.

What do you Think?

Have you had success selling to past customers? Is marketing to past buyers a regular part of your selling efforts? Do you have concerns or questions about regular contact with past buyers? Please leave your comments and questions below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

10 Comments

  1. I do believe it is good to keep communicating with people about our art and especially those that know it. It also helps us focus on what we are currently interested in or making. I agree that every couple of months is a idea but even a less frequently update (as what I manage) is better than none. I am not just thinking that the buyers are just somebody that took one of my products to their home but rather a “friend of the arts” that I myself am interested in and wish to keep in contact with. Not only good marketing but good report is what is important, and that is an ongoing thing. Thanks Jason – I need to write another newsletter.
    Anyone interested in my newsletter can sign up here: http://janeappleby.com/contact/

  2. Jason, I always appreciate and respect your opinions and suggestions. Thanks for another helpful blog post! In fact, this subject is directly related to an email I sent you this week. I haven’t received your response [yet] to my dilemma, so I’ll paraphrase it here, since it’s relevant to your post. My recent faux pas with a gallerist which I detailed in my email to you is about whether it’s ok or not ok for me the artist to follow up with a patron who purchased my work through a gallery. (your blog post doesn’t make that distinction) Is your advice [in this and related posts] applicable only to my list of patrons that purchased directly from me? Should I exclude from my marketing efforts buyers who purchased my work through a gallery? The favor of a clarification would be most appreciated!!

  3. GREAT tips! 👍 Thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge of the art world :)Glad I found yer blog. I’m an artist with several shows under me belt, but I still am trying to figure out how to successfully market my artwork…Will stay tuned 🙂 Trista di Genova

  4. Excellent points Jason.
    I made an online print sale 3 years ago at holiday time. I saw the buyer lived within 3 miles of my studio and I offered to hand deliver it. When he heard I had a studio space, he came by my studio to get it. He also introduced his wife, who has now commissioned her 6th original painting, two of which I will deliver this afternoon. When I called to confirm the time she asked if it was okay that she had referred me to several friends. Taking extra time on the small sales, does pay dividends!

  5. Hi, Jason. I have a problem with my galleries to give out the address of the customer…maybe they are afraid I would sell direct, whereas I have sold some to gallery customers off premise and always gave the commission to the gallery. How to approach gallery owners so they don’t feel threatened by loosing a commission?

  6. Another possibility is texting previous clients if they have supplied a phone number. People often miss or ignore their emails, or they get sent to the spam folder. They are more likely to see a text. However the same diplomacy applies as described in the above blog by Jason.

  7. I will gladly share your post on my blog, as it relates to my most recent blog post. That said, I have two things to say:
    1. The best way to keep in touch is to establish a relationship with people who buy art. It needn’t, and shouldn’t be deep, and it is easy: you add something personal to each communication, and you notice and ask when they add something personal to theirs. It isn’t disingenuous; we are all humans with a common interest, and so we should foster the bond. In my non-art business I do this also; an example was Halloween, when I added a picture of me in costume at the office to certain clients’ emails. Not everyone will be comfortable with familiarity. You need to know.
    2. My blog post is about my struggle as an artist, and some negative feelings I experience from time to time. Creating is intensely personal and I sometimes freak out and don’t want to share my emotions with the world. Does anyone else feel that?

  8. I do outdoor art shows and seem to have a difficult time getting the buyers email. I can get a phone number by saying I would need contact info in case there is a problem with the check or credit card given (that has never happened, but it works as an excuse to get the info) When asking for an email address I usually get a reply something like they do not want to get a lot of email, so usually they are not willing to part with that info. I don’t know if it is because a lot of my work is on the lower price range? I have also tried having a once a year give a way and any purchaser who gives me their email automatically gets entered. Any suggestions on how to get contact info? thanks, Sandy Jones

  9. Hi Jason, thanks for the article on the importance of keeping in touch with fans and collectors. I’ve had good results from it, though I always could do better. :^)

    Could you do an article some time on the value (or not) of magazine advertising? Maybe compare national art magazine vs local art magazine. What are your thoughts about the same money as may be spent on print vs spent online?

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

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